Intelligencer Journal/Lancaster New Era
BY JON RUTTER, Staff Writer
News that four charging stations will be installed on the Pennsylvania Turnpike this summer gave Lancaster electric vehicle builder/driver Brandon Hollinger a charge last week.
He's even happier about the state's long-range plan to offer fast-charging ports at all 17 service plazas along the 550-mile toll route.
"Would I use them? Yeah, I would," vowed Hollinger –– if the cost of the electricity is reasonable.
The tab for an electronic fill-up hasn't yet been determined, said Renee Vid Colborn, spokeswoman for the Pennsylvania Turnpike Commission. But it should be "anywhere between $2 and $5, depending on the charging station we put in and the utilities."
The charging stations will be positioned near the rear of the service plaza parking lots. Customers will be able to pay at the station with a credit card.
State transportation officials working with Florida-based Car Charging Group Inc. to develop the project say they want to steer more motorists toward electric vehicles while shrinking the state's carbon footprint.
The stations in the initial $2.5 million phase of the project will bookend the turnpike near its terminuses in eastern and western Pennsylvania.
The station nearest Lancaster will be in the Bowmansville service plaza in Brecknock Township.
Other portals will go in at Oakmont in Allegheny County; New Stanton in Westmoreland County and King of Prussia in Montgomery County.
"We're starting with the four plazas" and expanding later to western Pennsylvania and the Northeast Extension, Colborn said.
Many EVs can go only 80 or so miles on an hourlong charge, so they're unlikely to trek the length of the turnpike. But Colborn said the idea is to encourage EV commuting in the state's congested areas.
The project is being funded through a matching $1 million Alternative Fuel Investment Grant that the state Department of Environmental Protection awarded to Car Charging Group in 2011.
The turnpike commission is providing $500,000 for transformers, electric lines and meters, Colborn said.
The so-called level 2 charging stations going in this summer will allow drivers to fully power up their cars in about four hours with 220 volts, said Andy Kinard, president of Car Charging Group.
It takes less time to top off a battery that is not drained.
"It's for people to use just to get started," said Kinard, who added that his rapidly expanding 3½-year-old company has about 850 charging stations nationwide.
The next phase, DC fast charging, in which 480 volts are converted to direct current outside the car, will come later.
Kinard did not know how much later.
Although the alternative-fuel car market is beginning to blossom, most EVs are not yet fitted to accept a fast-charging plug.
Also, Kinard said, infrastructure must be established to support it.
"I'm dealing with eight different electrical utilities all over the state," he said of the Pennsylvania initiative. "This is our first foray into DC fast charging," which can restore 80 percent of a car's battery power in 26 minutes.
Driving distances will increase and charging times contract as technology improves, said Jim Wenger, general manager and vice president of Lancaster Nissan.
For now, added Wenger, who has sold all-electric Nissan Leafs for a year, people are recognizing EVs as clean-power champs of the local commute –– which make up the bulk of vehicle miles anyway.
The more EV feeding stations, Wenger added, the better.
"Any addition is going to be an improvement for people who have electric cars."
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